21 November 2012

A Laconic attitude in the face of a dismal decision

A shadow of winter darkness over Saint Margaret’s Church and Westminster Abbey this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

The word Laconic describes a short, if not terse, dry sense of humour in the face of adversity.

A Persian envoy tried to intimidate the Spartans, saying: “When our archers shoot their arrows, the sun will be blotted out.” The Spartan replied: “Good. We will fight in the shade.”

On another occasion, a Persian envoy delivered a threat about what would happen if Persia invaded Sparta. The Spartan leader replied: “If!”

There was a Laconic, wry sense of “so-that’s-where-we-are-now” at this evening’s reception in the Harvey Godwin Suite in Church House, beside Westminster Abbey, last night. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in his speech as President of Us (formerly USPG), was not just laconic but graceful.

Word about the vote on women bishops in the General Synod of the Church of England rippled through the service in Saint Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, as we were celebrating the relaunch and rebranding of the oldest and longest-lasting mission agency in the Anglican Communion.

As the voting figures were confirmed in the vestry afterwards, jaws dropped. The reaction was the same among archbishops, bishops, priests and the laity present.

So, what happened in that vote?

It is a disaster brought upon the Church of England because of a tiny minority in the House of Laity, where an unholy alliance between the extremes at both ends has once again taken away from the credibility and relevance of the Church, in mission, in the word today.

A very small number of the House of Laity – six in all – have blocked an all-too-generous compromise that was a generation behind the thinking in the Church of Ireland, which has been far more advanced, comprehensive and theologically coherent in its thinking.

One priest who is in a parish that has passed Resolutions A, B and C tells me he now hopes that this legislation will be recinded and that those who cannot accept the ordination of women must face the implications of their intransigence.

Those who blocked this legislation must be seen as straining at gnats while they are swallowing camels. Have they considered the consequences of being seen to fail to connect with the realities of ministry and mission in the world today?

Some of the people taking part in the service in Saint Margaret’s this evening, including Canon Edgar Ruddoick, had just returned from Southern Africa and the consecration of Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya of Swaziland, Africa’s first Anglican woman bishop. Another women is about to be consecrated a bishop in southern Africa in the New Year,

The voting in Church House this evening, as we celebrated around the corner in Saint Margaret’s, was: Bishops, 93.6% in favour (44-3, with two abstentions); Clergy, 76.7% in favour (148-45); Laity, 64.07% in favour (132-74). In other words, the vote was lost by 1.03% or six lay votes.

But we must go on, and the Church of Ireland is already providing a clear theological and moral lead on this debate within the Anglican Communion.

And despite the grey clouds hanging over Church House and Westminster Abbey this evening, it was a joy to take part in this special service in Saint Margaret’s Church.

With the Revd Richard Bartlett of Holy Trinity Northwood, a director of USPG Ireland, at this evening’s service in Saint Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey

I shared in leading the intercessions with Rachel Parry, Programmes Manager of Asia – for many years we were members together of the China Forum of CTBI in London. Others taking part included Archbishop Albert Chama of Central Africa; Archbishop Justice Ofei Akrofithe of West Africa and Bishop of Ghana; the Revd Canon Chris Chivers, chair of trustees of Us; Janette O’Neill, General Secretary and CEO of Us; Canon Edgar Ruddock, Director of Global Networking, Us; Bishop Michael Doe, former General Secretary of USPG; the Revd Richard Bartlett, also a director of USPG Ireland; Bishop Andrew Proud of Reading; and Canon Andrew Tremlett, Rector of Saint Margaret’s and a canon of Westminster Abbey.

The sermon was preached by the Revd Canon Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields.

As I walked back from Church House and Westminster Abbey to Bloomsbury, I passed Saint Martin-in-the-Fields and realised the Christmas lights are already bedecking Shaftesbury Avenue and Covent Garden. And in some ways this is right, even if Advent has not yet begun, for in darkness, there shall be light, and incarnation is the promise that God redeems all our human and carnal frailty and makes all the arguments about differences in human flesh irrelevant.

Yes,I believe we are going to realise that, and rejoice in it ... sooner or later ... but in God’s own time.

With Janette O'Neill, Chief Executive of Us (formerly USPG), at this evening’s service in Saint Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey

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